On Titus 2.11-15

Text:
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, eager to do good works. 15 Proclaim these things; encourage and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

Title: On Titus 2.11-15
Church: Moro Baptist Church, Moro, AR
Date: December 29, 2019


On Psalm 119:33-40 (He)

Hebrew he33 Teach me, Lord, the meaning of your statutes,
and I will always keep them.
34 Help me understand your instruction,
and I will obey it
and follow it with all my heart.
35 Help me stay on the path of your commands,
for I take pleasure in it.
36 Turn my heart to your decrees
and not to dishonest profit.
37 Turn my eyes
from looking at what is worthless;
give me life in your ways.
38 Confirm what you said to your servant,
for it produces reverence for you.
39 Turn away the disgrace I dread;
indeed, your judgments are good.
40 How I long for your precepts!
Give me life through your righteousness.

In the the fifth stanza of Psalm 119 ( ה/he – pronounced “hey”), the psalmist expresses his complete dependency upon God for understanding His Word. And so, he prays to God for illumination. “Teach me, Lord, the meaning of your statues, and I will always keep them. Help me to understand your instruction, and I will obey it and follow it with all my heart.” (Verses 33-34) Illumination is simply that work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer by which He opens our minds to understand and apply the Scriptures. And it is this “spiritual” understanding that distinguishes the believer’s reading of Holy Scripture from the nonbeliever.

The reality is that there are secular scholars (historians, linguists, philosophers) who know the history, language, and theology of the Bible better than the average Christian. Their historical reconstructions are more compelling, their literary analyses are more sophisticated, their exposition perhaps even more accurate. However, they do not believe in the one who said, “and yet they testify about me.” (John 5.39) The difference being that they do not have the indwelling Holy Spirit whose specific job is to lead believers into all truth. Therefore, we must conclude that illumination gives us an understanding that is more than merely intellectual. It goes beyond the literary and the historical to the transformational. It is the Spirit who brings the dead words to life, who renews and revives the weary soul.

And so, we must affirm that illumination is not the imparting of new information, as opposed to that which is largely gained simply by being a good reader. Rather, illumination is the creation of a new capacity to receive the inspired Word of God and to be changed by it. As our psalmist goes on to pray, Turn my heart to your decrees
and not to dishonest profit. Turn my eyes from looking at what is worthless; give me life in your ways.”
(Verses 36-37) Our psalmist clearly understands that what he needs is more than a mere intellectual reading of Holy Scripture; what he needs, and what we all need, is that Spirit given illumination leading to transformation. “How I long for your precepts! Give me life through your righteousness.” (Verse 40)

It is somewhat appropriate, I think, that I am writing on this on the day in which many Christians will make a “New Years Resolution” to read the Bible more in 2020, perhaps, by starting some kind of Bible reading plan, e.g. the Bible in one year, etc. And, of course, this is a worthy goal to aim for. But there must be a realization that we are not simply reading for information; we are reading for transformation. This does not mean that every reading will be some kind of mountain top spiritual experience. Some, in fact, will be dull drudgery (re. Leviticus). But faithfulness over time, daily dependence upon the Spirit, humbly praying for eyes to see and ears to hear will slowly result in the transformation of our being into the image of Christ. This is why we call it a spiritual discipline, faithful obedience while relying upon the Spirit.

For further study:
Introduction and Overview
Psalm 119.1-8
Psalm 119.9-16
Psalm 119.17-24
Psalm 119.25-32

See also:
Sermon: On the Spirit and the Word


On Psalm 119.25-32 (Daleth)

dalet

25 My life is down in the dust;
give me life through your word.
26 I told you about my life,
and you answered me;
teach me your statutes.
27 Help me understand
the meaning of your precepts
so that I can meditate on your wonders.
28 I am weary from grief;
strengthen me through your word.
29 Keep me from the way of deceit
and graciously give me your instruction.
30 I have chosen the way of truth;
I have set your ordinances before me.
31 I cling to your decrees;
Lord, do not put me to shame.
32 I pursue the way of your commands,
for you broaden my understanding.

Well, after taking a short break for the season of Advent, we are back to working our way through Psalm 119. And so, we come to the fourth stanza (daleth/ד), where our psalmist turns his attention to the turmoil of human existence. “My life is down in the dust; give me life through your word.” (verse 25) “I am weary from grief; strengthen me through your word.” (verse 28) This may not seem like a very positive outlook on life, especially when it is compared with the first three stanzas, but it is a brutally honest confession about the reality of the struggle. We live in a world that is stained, polluted, even controlled by sin, a world that is absolutely hostile to the ways of God and His word. And so it is understandable that those who try to live according to God’s Word will inevitably suffer pain and difficulty, whether directly or indirectly. As the Apostle Paul said, “In fact, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3.12)

Pain, heartache, suffering, loss; these are staples of the human experience in this already but not yet phase of God’s kingdom. And the temptation that we all will eventually face is to simply give up, to stop trying, to abandon the ways of God and His Word. Because, on the surface, there doesn’t seem to be a difference between our experience and that of the non-believer. But our psalmist understands that in the midst of this chaos, there is only one place to turn for stability and perspective, namely to God’s Word. “I cling to your decrees; Lord, do not put me to shame. I pursue the way of your commands, for you broaden my understanding.” (Verses 31-32) In fact, our psalmist even prays, “Keep me from the way of deceit and graciously give me your instruction.” (Verse 29) “Help me to understand the meaning of your precepts so that I can meditate on your wonders.” (Verse 27)

And so when we face inexplicable suffering in this life, what can we do? Well, our psalmist gives us two answers. First, we should be honest about our pain. As He says, “I told you about my life, and you answered me; teach me your statutes.” (Verse 26) In prayer, we can be honest with God about the depth of our sufferings, the difficulty of our heartaches; we open them up to Him so that He can comfort us the gracious compassion of His promises. But not only must we be honest with God, but we must be honest with each other in the body of Christ. We need not suffer alone, as the Scriptures tell us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12.15) Our psalmist is doing just that in the writing of this Psalm, as it would be shared with the gathered assembly. We must learn to share our deepest and most painful heartaches with the community of God’s people, so that they can be the means of His comfort in our lives.

And secondly, we must resolve anew to stand firm on the ways of God which are given in His word. “I have chosen the way of truth; I have set your ordinances before me.” (Verse 30). The reality is that there will be times when obeying the Word of God will be the absolute last thing we want to do. We may not understand why God has commanded us in this way, or we may simply not feel like keeping it at that given moment. However, this is where faith steps in, because we trust that God is fundamentally good and all of His commands are good, even when we can’t see it. This is what comes across most vividly in this stanza, the psalmist’s faith even in the face of difficulty and doubt. And here again, we simply cannot do this alone. When we are hurting, the temptation is to withdraw and isolate our selves, but this is when we need the support and encouragement of the people of God the most, which is why we are told, And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10.24-25)

But our psalmist is clear, that in the midst of the chaos and turmoil and heartache of this world, the only footing, the only foundation, the only security that we have available to us is to be found in the Word of God, because it forces us to set our faith, our hope on something, or I should say someone, other than ourselves, namely the one true and living God.

For further study:
Introduction and Overview
Psalm 119.1-8
Psalm 119.9-16
Psalm 119.17-24


On the Fourth Sunday of Advent

advent 4

The fourth Sunday of the season of Advent is dedicated to the contemplation of love, namely that it was love that motivated the Father to send the Son into the world as the incarnate Christ-child. And though the lectionary readings do not mention the love of God specifically, they do focus us on that great act of love, whereby our Savior became like unto us so that we may become like Him. So, before we turn our attention to the readings for this fourth Sunday, let us remind ourselves of that most memorable of verses,

For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will no perish but have everlasting life. (John 3.16)

This is the gift that we celebrate at Christmas, and the lectionary readings prepare us for that celebration by reminding us that this was the eternal plan of God from the very beginning of time.

Old Testament: Isaiah 7.10-16
Of course, this is the passage where we find God’s prediction of the virgin birth, that “the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel,” (verse 14), and this is the verse that will be cited by Matthew in today’s Gospel reading. And so it is tempting to fast forward immediately to the those events surrounding the birth of the Christ-child. However, we would be completely remiss if we ignored the original context within which this prophecy is given. And while we do not have the space here to recount the whole story, it would behoove us to linger in these chapters, specifically chapters 7-9, before jumping to the details of the Christmas story. This passage recounts the promise given through the prophet Isaiah that God would deliver the Kingdom of Judah from the enemies, even in spite of the seemingly insurmountable odds that were arrayed against them. “For before the boy knows to reject what is bad and choose what is good, the land of the two kings you dread will be abandoned.” (Verse 16) And it is this pattern then that becomes the typological precedent for the coming of Messiah. In other words, because God loves His people, He will deliver them from their enemies, whether those enemies be temporal (as with the people of Judah) or eternal (as with us and our enemy – sin).

Psalm: Psalm 80.1-7, 17-19
In the Psalm reading, “the psalmist laments Israel’s demise and asks the Lord to show favor toward his people, as he did in earlier times.” (Study Note, NET Bible) In other words, the psalmist is praying for God’s salvation specifically as that pertains to the restoration of the people of Israel. “Listen, Shepherd of Israel, who leads Joseph like a flock; you who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine on Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. Rally your power and come to save us.” (Verses 1-2) But what is most sobering in this Psalm is that the psalmist admits that the people of Israel have reaped the just and due consequence of their sin in punishment from God, and that it is God and God alone who can must intervene on behalf of His people for their forgiveness and restoration. “Lord God of Armies, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? You fed them the bread of tears and gave them the full measure of tears to drink.  (Verse 4-5) And this is not unlike the spiritual condition of all humanity; we are too justly under the judgment of God for our sin, and He and He alone is the one who must act for our salvation. And so we pray, “Restore us, Lord, God of Armies; make your face shine on us, so that we may be saved.”

New Testament: Matthew 1.18-25
The Gospel reading for this fourth and final Sunday of Advent, then, takes us to the events leading up the birth of the Christ-child. “After his mother Mary have been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit. So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.” (Verse 18-19) Obviously, Joseph was facing a perplexing dilemma, and who’s to say what we might have done under those same circumstances. But God intervened in a dream telling Joseph to take Mary as his wife. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Verse 21) Of course, Matthew goes on in verses 22-23 to make the point that this was in fulfillment of what God had said through the prophet Isaiah, as we saw in our Old Testament reading. And “When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus.” (Verses 24-25) But the important point to note in this passage is that in the Christ-child, God himself has come into the world “to save His people from their sins.” 

New Testament: Romans 1.1-7
And this was God’s plan A all along, as Paul goes on to show in the New Testament reading. Of course, in the Letter to the Romans, Paul is writing to a church that he himself had never visited. He was practically a stranger to them, and so, in these introductory verses, he must establish his identity and the authority from which he writes, which he ultimately grounds in the Gospel of God. “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.” (Verse 1) And it is this concept, the Gospel of God that Paul goes on to define in verses 2 thru 6 of the passage, that it was promised beforehand through the prophets in the Scriptures (verse 2), that it concerns his son, Jesus Christ our Lord, that he was a descendant of David (verse 3), appointed the powerful Son of God by the Spirit through resurrection (verse 4), and that through Him, we have been given a mission to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name throughout the nations (verse 5). The point being that this was God’s plan all along from eternity past to eternity future, the Gospel of God is the script by which history unfolds. And the coming of Christ, both in His first Advent and in His second, is the cornerstone of that Gospel.

And so, we return to where we began, that the Gospel of God is nothing less than the expression of His love for His people, and that is what we celebrate at Christmas. God himself entered into the creation as the Christ-child incarnate to save His people from their sins. And thanks be to God for giving us this gift.

For further study:
On the Season of Advent
On the First Sunday of Advent
On the Second Sunday of Advent
On the Third Sunday of Advent


On the Third Sunday of Advent

advent 3

On the third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday (from the Latin word meaning “rejoice”), we contemplate joy. And the best definition of joy that I have ever come across, though I cannot remember where I found it, goes like this:

Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.

Because this is the lesson of Advent, that in the midst of the heartache and sorrows that abound in this present moment, we can still rejoice. We can rejoice because of the Christ-child who came into the world to live a perfect life, die on the cross, and rise again for our forgiveness, and we can rejoice because one day the Christ-King will come again to put an end to our suffering once and for all. So, on this third Sunday of Advent, with the celebration of Christmas less than two weeks away, we rejoice in the one who saves, and the lectionary readings help us to do just that.

Old Testament: Isaiah 35.1-10
In the Old Testament passage, we read of the return of God’s people from exile and the restoration of the Holy City. After the judgment and destruction of chapter 34, chapter 35 opens with a scenic vision of renewal. And so we read, “The wilderness and the dry land will be glad; the desert will rejoice and blossom like a wildflower. It will blossom abundantly and will also rejoice with joy and signing.” (verse 1-2a) And it is in this picture of renewal and restoration that “They will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.” In other words, God will restore and renew what was lost and damaged by sin, and His people are to look upon it and rejoice. As verse 10 confirms, “and the redeemed of the Lord will return and come to Zion with singing, crowned with unending joy. Joy and gladness will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee.” What a day that will be when illness and death, suffering and sickness will come to an end. And so, Isaiah encourages us in verse 3, “Strengthen the weak hands, steady the shaking knees! Say to the cowardly: ‘Be strong; do no fear! Here is your God; vengeance is coming. God’s retribution is coming; he will save you.'”

Psalm: Psalm 146.5-10 or Luke 1.46b-55
Now, the lectionary gives us two options for the Psalm reading on this third Sunday of Advent. Psalm 146, verses 5-10, extols the compassion of God, especially as He attends to the neediest of His people. “Happy is the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them. He remains faithful forever.” (verses 5-6) Whether we are talking about the exploited and oppressed, the imprisoned, the blind, the resident aliens, the fatherless, it is God who is understood to be the help in their time of need. In other words, He is the one who rights the wrongs that we have suffered, because “The Lord reigns forver; Zion, your god reigns for all generations. Hallelujah!” (verse 10). The Christ-child came into the world to inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth, and one day, He will come again to consummate the kingdom of God once and for all. And so, we rejoice in praise because He is the solution for our every need.

The other option for the “psalm” reading comes from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verses 46-55, which is of course known as the Magnificat, the song of Mary. And though it is not a Psalm per se, it is nevertheless stands in that vein, because in it Mary voices her praise toward the God who has blessed her with the responsibility of carrying his Son. And so, “My soul praises the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” (verses 46-47). But her joy is not simply motivated by her privilege in carrying the Son of God, but because of what that child represents, namely the coming of God into the world to save His people. And so she sings in verse 50, “His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear him.” And again in verse 54, “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he spoke to our ancestors.” Mary is able to rejoice, because she know that through her, God is setting into motion his eternal plan of salvation. So, also we rejoice as we await the completion of that plan at His second coming.

Gospel: Matthew 11.2-11
The Gospel reading then brings us face to face with the existential angst of this reality, namely that we have been promised joy but everywhere we look we only see suffering. In Matthew, chapter 11, we read of John the Baptist who has now been imprisoned and will soon be executed. So, he sends messengers to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (verse 3) Of course, this is the very man who had baptized Jesus in the Jordan River proclaiming Him to be the Lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world. But now, he is in prison, and his faith is wavering. And so, Jesus responds, not with condemnation mind you, but with compassion; “Go and report to John what you hear and see,” namely referring to the nature of His ministry. (verses 4-6) Of course, Jesus goes on in this passage to explain the importance of John’s ministry in the unfolding of God’s salvation by way of an appeal to Malachi 3:1, but the important part comes in verse 11, where we read, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one great than John the Baptist has appeared, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” In other words, we can rejoice even when the promise doesn’t match the reality, because we know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

New Testament: James 5.7-10
And lastly, the New Testament reading exhorts us to cultivate patience with our joy. “Therefore, brothers and sisters, be patient until the Lord’s coming. … You also must be patient. Strengthen you hearts, because the Lord’s coming is near.” (verse 7-8) And then, after he instructs us not to complain about one another, James goes on to say, “Brothers and sisters, take the prophets who spoke in the Lord’s name as an example of suffering and patience.” (verse 10) What James understands is that the strength to endure comes from joy, as he said back in chapter 1, verse 2, “Consider it great joy , my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials.” And the joy that we have in light of Christ’s first coming strengthens us to endure until His second coming. And so James exhorts us in this passage, “Brothers and sisters, do not complain about one another, so that you will not be judged, Look, the judge stands at the door.” Our common joy in the Advent of the Christ child should unite us in peace, because we endure better together.

During this Advent season, may Christ lead us into the fullness of joy as we patiently await His triumphant return.

For further study:
On the Season of Advent
On the First Sunday of Advent
On the Second Sunday of Advent


On the Second Sunday of Advent

second-sunday-in-advent

In the second week of Advent, we focus on peace, that the Christ-child came into the world to offer us peace. Peace, meaning the absence of conflict, of animosity, of antagonism. In the words of the angels on the night of His birth, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people he favors.” (Luke 2.14) And when the Prince of Peace returns one day, He will establish His kingdom of perpetual peace once and for all. However, the good news pf Advent is that this is a peace that we, as His people, already experience in the here and now. And so, the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Advent invite us into the peace that His coming offers us and that we desperately look forward to at His coming.

Old Testament: Isaiah 11.1-10
Of course, the prophecies of Isaiah are replete with messianic overtones, and this week’s Old Testament reading is no different. In verse 1, we read, “Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse,” which is Isaiah’s way of describing the Messiah according to His biological lineage descended from David, Son of Jesse. But the important thing about Him is what He will do, specifically how He will rule. Verse 2 of the passage tells us that, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him.” In other words, Messiah will be anointed with the Spirit of God for the purpose of ruling in justice. And what we must understand is that a just rule, established in righteousness and faithfulness (verse 5), is a prerequisite for peace, because, “He will judge the poor righteously and execute justice for the oppressed of the land.” (verse 4)

And it is His just rule that establishes the idyllic serenity that Isaiah goes on to describe in verses 6-9. “The wolf (traditionally read as lion) will dwell with lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the goat,” etc. And notice in verse 9, “They will not harm or destroy each other on my entire holy mountain, for the land will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the sea is filled with water.” This is Isaiah’s vision for the reign of Messiah, that violence will be no more, that bloodshed and conflict will be no more. Oh, how we long for that day, because, “On that day the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples. The nations will look to him for guidance, and his resting place will be glorious.” In other words, the reign of Messiah will be characterized by perfect peace. 

Psalm: Psalm 72.1-7, 18-19
According to the traditional heading, this psalm appears to be a prayer that was written by King David (see verse 20) for his son and successor Solomon. David is praying for Solomon as he prepares to ascend to the throne. And so, in verse 1, we read, “God, give your justice to the king and your righteousness to the king’s son.” However, given the messianic implications of the term “son of David”, we must see this as a prayer for the perfect and peaceful rule of Messiah. “He will judge your people with righteousness and your afflicted ones with justice.” (verse 2) And again, “May he vindicate the afflicted among the people, help the poor, and crush the oppressor.” (verse 4)  In other words, this psalm is an expression of longing for peace that is written on every human soul, and it reminds us that our longings for peace on earth will never be fully satisified by any human ruler or government. No, “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does wonders. Blessed be his glorious name forever; the whole earth is filled with his glory. Amen and amen.” (verse 18-19). There is a deep and severe longing in every human soul for the peace, and in this prayer, we affirm that it will only be realized with the coming of Messiah.

Gospel: Matthew 3.1-12
In the Gospel reading, then, we read of a familiar character in the Gospel accounts, namely John the Baptizer. And though we may not think of him in conjunction with the Christmas story, he is, nevertheless, important because of His role as herald. “For he is the one spoke of through the prophet Isaiah, who said: A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.” (verse 3) And so, as we think about our Lord’s Advent, we must recognize that John was the appointed herald to announce His initial arrival. And he did so my preaching, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (verse 2) This, by the way, is the same message that Jesus preached at the beginning of His ministry in Galilee.

But what makes this passage appropriate for Advent is what John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees who came out to be baptized. In verse 7, we read, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” Admittedly, it is somewhat awkward to read about wrath when we are supposed to be focusing on peace; however, John has hit on something that is important to understand about our Lord’s coming, namely that before there can be peace, there must be wrath. Evil must be dealt with, and the wicked must be removed so that peace can rise.  And so, John proclaims that one who comes after him has “His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn. But the chaff he will burn with the fire that never goes out.” When our Lord Christ returns to in glory, He will bring with Him two things, peace for those who repent of their sins and wrath for those that do not. And so John tells us, “Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance.”

New Testament: Romans 15.4-13
And finally, in the New Testament reading, we can see exactly what kind of fruit that is, namely that we who have repented of our sins, trusted in Christ, and received His peace should show forth that peace toward others. As Paul puts it in verse 7, “Therefore accept one another, just as Christ also accepted you, to the glory of God.” In other words, we are called to be Christ’s agents of peace in the world; we give to others what we ourselves have already received. This is in keeping with Paul’s prayer in verse 13, where he prays, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” The point is that the foundation for peaceful human relationships is grounded in the finished work of the Christ-child.

And the proof of Paul’s point in this passage is the full and equal inclusion of the Gentiles in the people of God. In the first century, there was no more antagonistic vitriolic relationship as that between the Jews and the Gentiles, but Paul strings together a handful of Old Testament quotes in this passage to show that it was always God’s plan to bring the Gentiles into the kingdom of Messiah. So, all of a sudden, Jewish followers of Jesus were faced with a dilemma, namely how could they accept Gentile followers of Jesus  into their communities as brothers and sisters in Christ. And Paul’s answer is that they can because they have received the peace of Christ. So, he prays, “Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice.” This is the crucial point: He gives peace, we embrace peace, and He gets the glory.

May this Advent season bring you and yours all the peace of Christ that passes all understanding, and may we all show forth His peace to a world that is in so desperate need of it!

For Further Study:
On the Season of Advent
On the First Sunday of Advent


On the First Sunday of Advent

Adventskranz 1. Advent

As previously noted, this last Sunday, December 1, 2019, marked the beginning of the Christian season of Advent, and this first Sunday of the Advent season emphasizes hope, namely our expectation that Jesus the Christ will one day return to this earth in glory and power to establish His kingdom forever. Understandably, the corresponding lectionary readings (taken from the Revised Common Lectionary) help us to envision and to prepare ourselves for that day, and they reinforce our hope in the midst of the pain and difficulties that are so common in our world today.

Old Testament: Isaiah 2.1-5
In the Old Testament reading, we are confronted with “The vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem” (verse 1), and in this vision, the prophet looks forward to the last days to see the house of the Lord established and all the nations streaming to it. In verse 3, they say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us about his ways so that we may walk in his paths.”  This reminds us that God’s plan was never solely for the people of Israel; rather, His plan was for the salvation of the nations, that all peoples might come to know Him and to enjoy His benevolence. Because on that day, “instruction will go out of Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” 

And on that day, He will establish peace, as Isaiah describes in verse 4, “They will beat their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives.” He goes on, “Nation will not take up the sword against nation, and they will never again train for war.” What a glorious hope that we have, that our Lord Jesus will come back to establish peace on earth once and for all. Oh, how we desperately long for that peace, and so, Isaiah encourages us, “House of Jacob, come and let us walk in the Lord’s light.” In other words, we are called to people of peace because of our hope. We know that one day our Lord Jesus will return.  This is our blessed hope, and so we must walk in the His light.

Psalm: Psalm 122
The Psalm reading follows up on Isaiah’s vision, then, with a prayer for the well being of Jerusalem. It is one of the “Songs of Ascent” which would be sang by Jewish pilgrims as they made their way up to the holy city to worship at the temple. As it says, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.'” (verse 1) And David tells us why we should rejoice in verse 3-4, where he writes, “Jerusalem, built as a city should be, solidly united, where the tribes, the Lord’s tribes, go up to give thanks to the name of the Lord.” Of course David was thinking of that earthly city, that temple which was made by hands, but we know, in light of our Lord’s first coming, that we are waiting for that heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God, where we will live in the presence of God for eternity. This is our hope.

Gospel: Matthew 24.36-44
The Gospel reading for this first Sunday of Advent, as it does every year, comes from the Olivet Discourse, in this case Matthew’s version. And this is a profound reminder that the season of Advent is radically eschatological in its scope. Yes, it prepares us to celebrate the birth of the Christ-child at Christmas, but it also reminds that our hope is yet future. And as Jesus says, “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows – neither the angels of heaven nor the Son – except the Father alone” (verse 36). And He concludes, “This is why you are also to be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (verse 44). The point here is clear, that we must be ready, that we must prepare ourselves for His arrival, and in the context of the Olivet Discourse, this means that we must be faithful to the responsibilities that He has left us. As it says in verse 46, “Blessed is that servant who the master finds doing his job when he comes.”

New Testament: Romans 13.11-14
And finally, the New Testament reading gives us a glimpse of what this readied faithfulness looks like. It is sufficient here, I believe, to simply quote the passage at length: Besides this, since you know the time, it is already the hour for you to wake up from sleep, because now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is nearly over, and the day is near; so let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk with decency, as in the daytime: not in carousing and drunkenness; not in sexual impurity and promiscuity; not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t make plans to gratify the desires of the flesh.” That last line says it all, that we should put on Christ-likeness, because we know that our hope is certain and that our faithfulness will be rewarded on that day when Jesus comes again.

And so, let us renew our hope this Advent season. We live in a world that is completely inundated with conflict, confusion, and chaos; we are constantly bombarded with painful and tearful reminders that this world is not completely as it should be. But one day, it will all be put to rights, and until that time, we are called to endure in hope and to persevere in faithfulness, no matter how grim the outlook may be.

For further study:
On the Use and Benefit of the Lectionary
On the Season of Advent


On the Season of Advent

Advent

Well, it is that time of year again. ‘Tis the season, and all that jazz. Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, the sights and sounds and smells of Christmas have begun to fill the air. However, with the month of December comes another season that sometimes gets lost in the hustle and bustle of the holidays. I am talking about the Christian season of Advent. Advent, that time of year, according to the Christian calendar, when followers of Jesus prepare themselves to celebrate the incarnation of the Savior at Christmas. Of course, the season of Advent, which consists of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, stands at the beginning of the church year, and as such, it brings with it a sense of renewal and hope.

The name Advent comes from a Latin word that simply means “coming”, which itself is a translation of the Greek word parousia, meaning “coming”. And in the New Testament, this word almost always refers to the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus when He will return to the earth in glory and power. In other words, the season of Advent is a time when Christians reflect on the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, even as we prepare to celebrate His first coming. We look back, so that we may look forward. We look back into the hope and longing of Israel for the coming of Messiah, even as we look forward with hope and longing for the return of Messiah. And we let their expectations inform our expectation.

This sentiment is captured best in the well known hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, which begins, “O come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely Exile here until the Son of God appears.” The chorus follows, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.” Or again, in the hymn Come, thou long expected Jesus,” where we sing, “Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art; dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.” And so, it is understandable that the corresponding lectionary readings for this season emphasize the prophetic expectation that is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus as Messiah.

For the follower of Jesus, then, I believe the season of Advent teaches us three things in preparation for the celebration of Christmas. First, it teaches us to wait. When we look back into the hopes of Israel for the coming of Messiah, we are reminded that they had to wait for quite some time. The last messianic prophecy is given in the Book of Malachi, and it was some 400 years or so after those words were spoken that the Christ-child was born. Even as Israel had to wait, so also we have been waiting for some 2000 years for the return of our King. And as long as He should tarry, we will continue to wait. Sadly, the notion of waiting well has been lost in our fast-paced, instant society, but Advent teaches us to wait patiently.

Secondly, Advent teaches us to hope. It is in the season of Advent that we are reminded that our hope has only partially been fulfilled. And even as we anticipate the celebration of Christmas, we are reminded that the incarnation is only half of the Gospel story. Our Lord Jesus came to this earth the first time as a baby in a manger, and He grew into a man who died on a cross for our sin and then rose again. And after His resurrection, He ascended unto the Father with a promise, that in the same way that He departed, so also would He return one day. He will come a second time with glory and power, and He will finally and permanently establish the kingdom of God on the earth in peace and righteousness. And we should long deeply for that day!

And lastly, Advent teaches us to be faithful. In other words, even as we wait, we are not waiting passively. We are not merely sitting back on our hands looking to the sky for His return. No, we have been given a commission, a Great Commission, to go into all the world making disciples of our Lord Jesus the Christ. We are called to be faithful, to serve, and love, and live in Christ-likeness, until that time when we will meet Him in the air. As the Apostle Paul puts it in the Letter to Titus, chapter 2, verses 11-13,

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

This Advent season, I pray that you all will be filled with this blessed hope.

For Further Study, see:
On the Use and Benefit of the Christian Calendar

See also:
On the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ
On the Season of Lent
On the Season of Easter


On Psalm 119.17-24 (Gimel)

340px-Gimel_Hebrew.svg17 Deal generously with your servant
so that I might live;
then I will keep your word.
18 Open my eyes so that I may contemplate
wondrous things from your instruction.
19 I am a resident alien on earth;
do not hide your commands from me.
20 I am continually overcome
with longing for your judgments.
21 You rebuke the arrogant,
the ones under a curse,
who wander from your commands.
22 Take insult and contempt away from me,
for I have kept your decrees.
23 Though princes sit together speaking against me,
your servant will think about your statutes;
24 your decrees are my delight
and my counselors.

In the third stanza, ג (gimel), our psalmist begins with what seems to be a condition to his obedience. Verse 17 reads, “Deal generously with your servant so that I might live; then I will keep your word.” However, we must not read this is a quid pro quo request. Our psalmist is not basing his obedience on the condition of God’s grace. He is not saying, “if you do this for me, then I’ll do this for you.” The footnotes in the NET Bible state that the cohortative verbal forms in this line indicate purpose or result. In other words, our psalmist is requesting the empowerment of God’s grace so that he will be able to keep God’s Word. This understanding is confirmed in verse 18, where we read, “Open my eyes so that I may contemplate wondrous things from your instruction.”

This is a much needed corrective in the contemporary understanding of the role of obedience in the Christian life, that the empowerment of God’s grace precedes all our effort to obey. Grace results in obedience, and not the other way around, because that which would be legalism. In other words, what our psalmist is requesting is exactly what we have been given in the New Covenant. In Ezekiel’s description of the New Covenant (36.24-30), we read, “I will put my place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statues and carefully observe my ordinances” (verse 27).  And the Apostle Peter confirms, “His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1.3).

And why is this gracious empowerment necessary? Well, our psalmist gives us the answer in verse 19, “I am a resident alien on earth.” The word is variously rendered as “foreigner”, “sojourner”, “stranger.” In other words, our psalmist understands that this world is not his native home, that his values, convictions, and principles are of another reality altogether. As he says, “I am continually overcome with longing for your judgments.” However, he also understand that while we live “on earth”, it is so easy to become distracted, confused, and misdirected in our lives, which is why we need to the constant favor of God’s empowering grace to regularly reorient our perspectives. As our psalmist understands, “you rebuke the arrogant, the ones under a curse, who wander from your commands” (verse 21).

Of course, our psalmist knows that walking to the beat of God’s drum will necessarily result in misunderstandings, in ridicule, scorn, and contempt. One person’s obedience must necessarily expose someone else’s disobedience, and when that happens, we can automatically expect to face opposition. But our psalmist knows the source of his strength, “Your decrees are my delight and my counselors” (verse 24), and so he prays, “Take insult and contempt away from me, for I have kept your decrees” (verse 22). The psalmist understands that the one who has so graciously empowered his obedience will also graciously protect and sustain him through any circumstance.

This should be the perspective of every follower of Jesus. We are strangers living in a foreign land; we do believe, speak, feel, and behave according to another reality. We are  “continually overcome with longing for [His] judgments.” And as long as we live in this already/not yet season, we can trust that our God will empower us for obedience by His grace, even while He sustains us to perfection in glory.

For further study:
Introduction/Overview
Psalm 119.1-8
Psalm 119.9-16


On Psalm 119.9-16 (Beth)

2560px-Hebrew_letter_Beth.svg (2)9 How can a young man keep his way pure?
By keeping your word.
10 I have sought you with all my heart;
don’t let me wander from your commands.
11 I have treasured your word in my heart
so that I may not sin against you.
12 Lord, may you be blessed;
teach me your statutes.
13 With my lips I proclaim
all the judgments from your mouth.
14 I rejoice in the way revealed by your decrees
as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts
and think about your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word. (CSB)

The second stanza of Psalm 119, ב (beth), begins with a verse that has probably been drilled into the mind of every young man who has ever struggled with his thought life. But clearly these verses have application beyond that one application. In the wisdom literature, the word “young man” (verse 9) is metaphor for anyone who is naive, inexperienced, ignorant, or unlearned. And so, here in this stanza, the psalmist is reflecting on how the Word of God trains us in the way of purity. Of course, the basic assumption here is that a “young man” would want to keep his way “pure”, that this is understood as something that is both desirous and beneficial.

Now, purity here is simply another way of saying holy, and it is God’s clear expectation that His people will be holy, even as He is holy. (c.f. Leviticus 11.44-45, Matthew 5.48, 1 Peter 1.16). As it pertains to God, holiness refers to His divine otherness, that He is set apart, unique, and wholly different from His creation. However, it is much more than that; it also implies His moral rectitude, His absolute sinlessness, the unassailable perfections of His character. And we are told to be holy, even as He is holy. So, as it pertains to us, as believers in Jesus, it refers to the distinction of our behavior, values, and attitudes over and against the world. As James writes, “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: … to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1.27)

And, how can we keep ourselves unstained from the world? Answer, “By keeping your Word.” But, the “keeping” that our psalmist has in mind here is much more than a rote dutiful obedience. No, it is to be sought with all the heart (verse 10), treasured in the heart (verse 11), and proclaimed with the lips (verse 13). It is something to be rejoiced in (verse 14), meditated on (verse 15), and delighted in (verse 16). And this is a both a timely and a timeless affirmation, that the standards for living a holy life which are commanded in God’s Word are good and glorious and to be joyously embraced rather than begrudgingly accepted.

It is no secret that the current cultural climate is becoming more and more hostile to these standards, that the commands of God are increasingly seen as outdated, bigoted, prejudicial, and simply unfair. But, our psalmist understands that the ways of God as He has prescribed them in His Word are good, and they are meant for our satisfaction and enjoyment. And the way that we learn to enjoy God’s ways is not simply by a begrudging reluctant external obedience. No, we must relish in them internally by pouring over them in meditation, treasuring them in our hearts, and rejoicing gladly in them. And so, may we pray with the Psalmist,  Lord, may you be blessed; teach me your statutes.”

For further study:
Introduction/Overview
Psalm 119.1-8

 


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